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The Free Lunch

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  721 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
Under the facade of the world's finest theme park lies a secret which could alter the course of human history.
Mike and Annie, refugees from the world outside, find a home underground, behind the scenes of Dreamworld, a theme park where hope exists as it does nowhere else. But Dreamworld is threatened by a jealous competitor who kills what he can't have. And if this were n
Paperback, 256 pages
Published August 19th 2002 by Tor Books (first published August 2001)
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Apr 16, 2016 Andrew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ok I will have to say right now I didn't get in to this book and it almost became the first DNF book of this year (or any for that matter) - when ever this happens I always wonder if its me with the book or the book with the story? So what went wrong - as I just didn't connect with the characters - yes the story was an intriguing one and the final explanations at the end of the book were both different and interesting, it just was a struggle getting there.

So the references to the theme park, now
Jul 23, 2013 Willow rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
More like 2.5 stars, really.

The Good: Mike may not be a badass like Ender, but he'd feel at home in Battle School, methinks. Exceedingly smart children are fun protagonists to watch, and Mike is very self-reflective and aware. Annie, too, makes for an interesting mentor -- one who can kick a liberal amount of ass when the story calls for it. Their dynamic is fun to watch.

I also think the description of the theme park is very well done. The "science" behind it at least sounds believable, and the
Jeff Yoak
Not one of my favorites by Robinson. It was great to have another full-length novel read by him in audio, but this one felt more like a short story that was stretched out. It also lacked his characteristic humor which is usually one of my favorite aspects of his stories. That said, it was a solid story. It just wasn't blindingly amazing like some of his others.
Sep 08, 2010 Rose rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi, fantasy, adventure
Very interesting book, I have to admit. With the focus on the main male lead, this actually could've been a sci-fi, YA book, but has several scenes which clearly make it oriented more toward adults. Spider Robinson creates a fantastical world of escapism in "Dreamworld" - a place where people go to forget the problems of everyday life. Granted, admission into the place is uber expensive, but worth the cost.

For a young boy named Mike, he decides he wants to beat the system and live in Dreamworld.
Dec 10, 2016 Swankivy rated it really liked it
Spider Robinson is one of the only "hard" SF writers who routinely captures my interest. Reading his work never feels like a slog, and the engagement he provides never feels like a cheap thrill or a manipulatively organized roller coaster. The pacing is smart and the ideas are digestible, and the author tends to keep his cast of character small enough that the relationships between each are worth something to read. He keeps his human characters truly multifaceted without it ever feeling stitched ...more
Mar 23, 2013 Trever rated it really liked it
A great choice if you enjoy Spider Robinson's brand of warm, empathetic, "human" SF. If you're looking for hard SF or bleakness, move on - Spider's characters are flawed, likable people trying to find redemption, and his books are like warm winter socks. Many critics might dismiss the term "cozy", but when times are hard, that's not such a bad thing. "Free Lunch" is like a happy vacation into the theme park of your dreams, and shares the sort of escapist fun that made "Dream Park" such a hit all ...more
Jul 27, 2014 Kenny rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Well, this is a fun, easy read - but feels a little shallow overall.
The main character is a young boy Mike, who is attempting to sneak into the world's best themepark, he makes it, and is surprised that someone else made it in before him and has lived, hidden, for over a decade.

Then things get weird - a competitor trying to put the park out of business, strange 'trolls' who are leaving the park.. And other assorted sci-fi strangeness. But it hangs together in a nice story, but only just, and pos
Jul 22, 2008 M— rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Book signed by Robinson at the 2006 National Book Festival, where Robinson was promoting his Stardance Trilogy omnibus that he cowrote with his wife, Jeanne Robinson, and also his treatment of the Robert Heinlein outline, Variable Star. The Robinsons were awesome and goofy.

I first encountered Robinson’s books via his Callahan’s series, but The Free Lunch is by far and away my favorite novel of his. I was better prepared for this NBF, and I ordered a hardback copy of this book two months in advan
Greg Frederick
Mar 03, 2017 Greg Frederick rated it it was amazing
You know, it's funny, I was debating between four and five stars for this one and I chose 4 but then I accidentally pressed 5... so I'll just stick with that.

This is the first novel I've read by Robinson, and I enjoyed it immensely. Sure, it had some holes, but without spoiling anything, sci-fi of this ilk rarely goes without them. The important thing is that this book was very fun to read, and very surprising. The protagonists were unique, which was a constant pleasure. Though I have to admit t
Julie Decker
Dec 10, 2016 Julie Decker rated it really liked it
Mike, a smart preteen living in the year 2023, is fascinated with the idyllic theme park Dreamworld, so he decides to hatch a plan to live there--permanently. Little does he know that another person had the same idea when the park opened thirteen years ago. The other permanent resident of Dreamworld--a grandmotherly little person named Annie--has been tooling around in the place for more than a decade, and when he impresses her with his intelligence and planning skills, they join forces to inves ...more
Jan 16, 2017 Jodi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Any book that predicts the results of the Trump administration (and I am writing this before he even takes office, so I am hoping I am wrong.) Seriously, Robinson reads this story of what two people are willing to do to save their world. Dreamworld is the best and happiest amusement park in the world but it does have it secrets. 13 years ago, a small woman (Dreamworld hires every Little Person it can find.) went into Dreamworld and went off the grid. One day, a 12 year old boy decides to do the ...more
Sep 16, 2012 Zeo rated it really liked it
I get that Robinson's not a brilliant writer, but something in what he does is very good at reaching me sympathetically where other writers might not. Maybe this is because subtlety isn't one of his strengths; nothing gets cloaked in pretty words at the expense of immediacy of feeling (and despite his politics-lite frequent subject matter, he's definitely a feel-y writer, not think-y). This sweet fantasy fit that bill and was instrumental in getting me back to reading more after a long post-coll ...more
Sep 05, 2007 Tracey rated it really liked it
Shelves: due-for-re-read
To heck with Universal Studios & Disneyland - I wanna go to Dreamworld - a fantastic (in the traditional & contemporary sense of the word) theme park portrayed in this novel.

We see the park thru Mike's eyes - a pre-teen who goes Under (behind the scenes) - only to meet someone already living there - Annie. She's been investigating the fact that more employees are *leaving* the park than are coming in and suspects the park owner's main rival.

Pop culture references abound in the park - yo
Benjamin Cvitkusic
Dec 18, 2014 Benjamin Cvitkusic rated it really liked it
Do you ever just want to run away from your fears and troubles? Escape to a different place (like a dream) to experience more happiness in your life?

In the book "The Free Lunch" the author (Spider Robinson) tells about two children going to Dreamworld where you can only go through fun times and happiness. A young teen named Mike goes to Dreamworld from out of his dark and hlum life. When he arrives to Dreamworld he first meets a girl around his age named Annie, who has experienced just about the
Mar 30, 2012 Denis rated it liked it
Shelves: do-not-own
I believe, based on the introduction, this was supposed to have been a collaborative work done with Spider and, was it David Gerrold? Anyhow, in the end, Spider wrote it himself. It is a light read with much of what Spider is known for: Optimism, Heinlein and pop music references, yet the hyper humour element is not there. No puns! That's alright though, those crazy Callahan books can get to be a little too much after a while.

I felt this was Spider attempting to write a Heinlein style juvenile n
R.J. Murphy
Jul 21, 2015 R.J. Murphy rated it liked it
The Free Lunch is a clever story. Twelve year old Mike plans to escape the real world by living in the hidden areas of Dreamworld, a premium fantasy amusement park. He meets Annie, who has been living there for thirteen years and knows the place better that its owners. They investigate the sudden appearance of too many employees playing trolls. To complicate matters, the evil owner of a competing theme park, who has previously tried to sabotage Dreamworld, is now trying to kidnap Annie. The new ...more
Teresa Carrigan
Aug 30, 2012 Teresa Carrigan rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
I've reread this book many times before, in various editions. I still love it, even knowing the plot ahead of time. It is not for everybody, but I particularly liked the references to various books I have read, and the second time I read it I made notes of books that I hadn't read yet and then got them from my library. Quite a few not very well disguised puns as well, such as bookshElves, sTrolling, etc. Main character is an extremely bright 12yo orphan. Most of the story takes place in the kind ...more
Aug 22, 2012 Lea rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi, time-travel
In the future a young boy escapes to the underground of Dreamworld, a high-tech fantasy theme park where he is befriended by an older woman who did the same thing years ago. They both love Dreamworld and are shocked to discover that every day more of the employes are checking out of the park than are checking in every day... I think I liked this book- interesting premise anyway. The characters were interesting and fairly well developed but I didn't care about them as much as I could have-- this ...more
Tim Hicks
Jul 14, 2011 Tim Hicks rated it liked it
Mixed feelings. There are plenty of good ideas and some wit here. But the whole premise of the story, and the way the plot unfolds, makes me wonder if Spider made this up as he went along. Not that there's anything wrong with that, and a fair number of authors have said they do that.

Both Annie and Mike are implausibly competent, although that is not unusual in Heinlein and Robinson stories. We know they are never really in trouble because they will always have a Tom Swift solution ready.

But if
Oct 24, 2009 Travis rated it liked it
Shelves: sf-fantasy
A young boy runs away, deciding he will hide out in the greatest amusement park in the world, only to discover he's not the only person with that idea and that there's something weird going on.

Great idea, and Spider's Disney-ish world has a lot of cool references to both characters from his books as well as a couple Heinlein characters, but the two leads are a bit bland and the story seems to run out of steam and ideas, rather than build up to a grand finale.

I love Spider, but his non-Callahan b
May 25, 2014 Don rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
Ahhhhh. After way too much distopian fiction (I'm so tired of that word), it was so refreshing to come back to pure and simple sci-fi. The execution of this story was just great. Spider's characters are always a bit too perfect for their situation, but that's part of the charm. We all try to identify and relate to the protagonist and when he/she succeeds or does something brilliant, we feel good about ourselves, too. This is that kind of book and is just a treat. I'm going to have to track down ...more
Violette Malan
Jun 05, 2016 Violette Malan rated it it was ok
The odd thing is that this book was on my "I've read it" shelves and I have absolutely no memory of having read it. None, zilch, nada. It's very light, and you can see it didn't take me long to finish it. As with many of Robinson's longer, and later, pieces, it's heavier on philosophy than it is on plot, and in that regard, there's nothing Robinson's fans (and I'm definitely one) haven't seen already.
I get the feeling this book was more fun to come up with than it was to read.
Mar 21, 2015 Hobbes rated it liked it
Not my favorite Spider Robinson work, but far from dislike. A future story centering around people who are living in Dreamworld, an amusement park designed to bring all our happy dreams and places to life. While they are trying to live their lives under the radar, someone in the real world plots Dreamworld's downfall and another group is using it as cover to enter our world. It is a fun and hopeful story, but without the depth of personal weight I am use to in his work.
Feb 08, 2015 Mel rated it liked it
Shelves: humor-modern
If a theme park was based on literary work rather than cartoons, I'd probably have wanted to live there as a child too. Set in the far future, psychology in entertainment has reached a new level, technology is rather advanced, there is a plot to this though kind of a tired one. Still, wasn't that bad of a jaunt.
Dec 13, 2012 Summer rated it it was ok
Shelves: science-fiction
I liked the idea of the book; although what Dreamworld actually looks like gets virtually no description other than being a glorified themepark (maybe a Disneyland parody?) ... but the execution was a little weak; not to mention it was kind of weird to think of Annie, though as tall as Mike, old enough to be Mike's mother. This is probably better for a youth audience than an adult one.
May 25, 2008 Jenna rated it really liked it
Very strange, but one of my favorites, actually. I wanted to give it a 5, but it had slightly too many emotions in it for it to be my kind of 5. It's about a kid who lives under a theme park; awesome idea and awesome writing but slightly too long for the amount of content. It should have been a short story. But still, it was entertaining and definitely worth reading.
Sep 19, 2011 Erin rated it liked it
Shelves: scifi
I picked this book up from a library sale for $2.00 and was both intrigued and disappointed by it. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the plot was definitely something new! The characters weren't particularly deep or engaging though, and it felt like they were sacrificed for a fast-paced bout of action.
Nov 17, 2013 Rachel rated it it was amazing
picked this book up at the ASPCA book faire for $1.00 & I loved it!
never read a book quite like this and hope to find another soon.
the characters along with the story line and Epic ending leave it a MUST to read.
Nov 17, 2013 Michael rated it liked it
As far as being a very fast and easily read book the story is engaging. The whole thing feels a bit empty and could have used more context and immersion but it wouldn't have been nearly as short then, would it?
Jan 01, 2009 Kallierose rated it it was ok
One of my least favorite Spider Robinson books. The characters did not grab my attention and the plot didn't interest me at all. For me, his stories are getting less and less interesting lately, and I miss the brilliance of his earlier work.
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Spider Robinson is an American-born Canadian Hugo and Nebula award winning science fiction author. He was born in the USA, but chose to live in Canada, and gained citizenship in his adopted country in 2002.

Robinson's writing career began in 1972 with a sale to Analog Science Fiction magazine of a story entitled, The Guy With The Eyes. His writing proved popular, and his first novel saw print in 1
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“Your diet must be about fifty-fifty, carrots and locoweed," Annie said softly.
He froze.
"I can't figure out what in the name of God's labia majora you think you're doing...but I'm impressed by how well you're doing it in the dark. You must have eyes like a cat.”
“Annie clouded up. For a second, he thought she was going to erupt, and flinched. She saw that...and got control of herself with an visible effort. She took three deep breaths, each longer than the last, and her features became serene.
All at once it seemed totally clear to Mike that she was right and he was nuts - that his ingenius theory was nonsense, childish, fantasty bullshit. His conviction evaporated, and he was ashamed. He felt his cheeks grow hot, groped for words with which to backtrack -
"I have to admit I have no better explanation for the the facts," Annie said slowly.
Again, Mike did an emotional instant 180. "Holy shit -"
She held up a hand. "I am going to think now. Very hard, for a long time. You will be as quiet as possible while I do." She got up from the computer, went to the bed, and lay down. "Think yourself, or read, or play games with the headphones on, or go Topside if you like." She clasped her hands on her belly, closed her eyes and appeared to go to sleep”
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